Jim Wade

Jim Wade was born in April 1954 in the Indian Valley section of Floyd County, Virginia. Jim was to be the youngest of three brothers who learned more about the world from the small rural farm they grew up on than any textbook. Farm life impressed upon them the importance of work ethic, common sense, and respect for people.  Jim’s mother Marie Akers Wade was a homemaker her entire life.   His father, Colen, also grew up in Floyd County and was self-employed doing carpentry and painting, and other ventures, in addition to farming.  Like most farmers of the generation, he built many of their farm buildings, including the home Jim and his brothers grew up in, based on repetition and not a manual.   Both of Jim’s parents grew up in the Depression and only had a sixth-grade education and their strongest desire was to make certain their sons would have a solid education and greater opportunities.

Jim’s earliest memories of the lessons learned about business came from his dad’s support and guidance for anything he wanted to try.  At around the age of six he would gather pumpkins from the family farm and would sell them from a roadside stand.  When Jim got a bicycle of his own with a basket, he would scout for empty glass soda pop bottles along the rural roads that could later be redeemed for five cents apiece at the local service station.   Jim’s fondest memories of his dad came from his positive approach to people and stated that he always looked for their strengths.

Jim attended Indian Valley Elementary for grades 1-7 and grades 8-12 he attended Floyd County High School.   Jim became a member of the Beta and Math clubs, and he participated in some intramural sports but his main job starting at 4:30 in the morning and continuing after school was helping on the farm.   Math and other classes, they would be called STEM curriculum today, were easy for Jim and he used that passion in determining his career.  Jim graduated high school in the top 10 of his class, that academic strength and the positive influence from his family made college a reality.

Upon Jim’s high school graduation, he was unclear about what his next steps could be and contemplated community college but his brother, Ernie, intervened and insisted upon him going to Virginia Tech especially because of his high academic standing in high school.  Because Ernie was living in Blacksburg, Jim was able to live with him part of the time and not incur the cost of room and board.  Jim found business-related courses to be very interesting and easy and that became the impetus for choosing Accounting as his field.  He says he also did enough research to conclude that with an accounting degree he could count on getting a job!  It was apparent that his choice was well thought out because he graduated second in his accounting class.  This led to Jim taking and passing the CPA exam in his last semester at VT.

After graduation Jim took a job in Roanoke with Peat Marwick & Mitchell Co., which later became KPMG where he worked from 1976-1980.  He held the positions of staff accountant and eventually Senior Accountant.  Beginning in 1980, Jim accepted an offer from American Motor Inns, his largest client at KPMG, and worked with the Krisch family as Vice President of Finance.  This move allowed him to go from Public Accounting to the business world, which he enjoyed much more.  Eventually he moved over to Operations where he had the opportunity to get more involved in the actual day-to-day running of the business.   Change occurred again for Jim as the Krisch family sold their business.   He was approached by Dick Lynn of Heironimus.  Dick shared his company’s needs and Jim accepted a position with Heironimus.  He worked there from 1987-1993 as the V.P. of Finance and Operations, until the company was sold in 1993.  

The most important turning point in Jim’s business career came at that time in 1993 when Jim received a call from Nick Taubman which led to a meeting with Nick and Garnett Smith to discuss the future Nick saw for Advance Auto Parts.  Nick outlined how Advance would become a leader in the auto parts business with 1000’s of stores and how he was looking for leaders to support that growth.  Nick asked Jim to join the company and when Jim asked what his position would be Nick assured him “we will figure it out when you get here.”  This confirmed everything Jim had heard about Nick and his belief in empowering people to lead and he quickly accepted this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Jim came to Advance when they were a $300 million corporation and today, they have grown to a $10 billion Fortune 500 company.  The tremendous growth has occurred by opening more stores and purchasing other chains.  With Jim’s background he was immediately drawn to Nick’s philosophy that has sustained Advance – Take care of our people, our people will take care of our customers, and customers will allow us to make a profit so we can do more of one or two.  Looking back, Jim has come to believe that the most important attribute of a great company is a strong culture built around employees who believe in their company and who are fully empowered to serve customers better than anyone else every day.

After serving as SVP-Logistics from 1993 during a time when the company grew from 300 stores to 800 stores, and a short stint as Executive Vice President, Jim was named President of Advance in 1999 upon the retirement of Garnett Smith.   During his over 20-year tenure, Jim led every part of the business in the company at least once.  Nick would probably say, we kept trying to find something he could do right!

From 1999 to 2003 the company grew from 800 stores to over 2000 stores because of two major acquisitions, Western Auto and Discount Auto Parts, both companies having over 500 stores each.  In his role as President, Jim led the acquisition and integration of the two companies.  At this time as he was serving as President, Jim also held the Chief Financial Officer title when the company went public and became a member of the New York Stock Exchange in 2001.

From the time that Nick changed the company’s name from Advance Stores to Advance Auto Parts until the mid-1990’s the company focused on providing Do it Yourself customers auto parts.  By the mid 2000’s it became clear that fewer people were working on their own vehicles and instead with vehicles having more technology were taking them to their local garage.  Advance was still 85% DIY, and it was clear the business model would need to change again.  Jim led the introduction of the company into the Commercial business delivering auto parts to local garages where they installed the parts.  Now the business model has shifted and 60% of the business is commercial, sales to local garages and only 40% is directed to DIY customers.

In 2011, Jim informed the team at Advance that he would be retiring from his position as President.  He was asked at that time to become a member of the Board of Directors and to continue to provide strategic leadership to the company.  As part of his continued role, he played a key role in the acquisition of Carquest Auto Parts in 2013 as a result of the relationship he had built with the owners of Carquest over the years as a competitor.  Today, Advance Auto has over 5,000 stores and is the largest auto parts distributor in North America.

Upon retirement as President from Advance, Jim was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” in front of over 4,000 store managers at the nationwide Advance annual meeting…it was one of the greatest surprises to have this highly coveted award bestowed to him.

Through his years at Advance, it was understood that if you are a leader at Advance you are a leader in the community.   Jim has served on the Boards of United Way and led the Advance campaign, Center in the Square where he led Advance’s partnership with Center during the recent renovation, the Skelton Smith Mountain Lake 4H Center where he set up a scholarship fund in his father’s name to enable kids from Floyd County to attend camp, the Foundation for the Roanoke Valley, and several other local non-profit organizations.  Jim and Ellen are proud supporters of the March of Dimes and their research and assistance to kids with birth defects.  They have also taken on a significant support role with the VT Research Institute led by Mike Friedlander because of their cerebral palsy research and because they believe the Research Institute and connection to VT are so critical to the future growth of the Roanoke Valley.

During his years with Advance, Jim was also a leader in addressing issues that affected the entire auto parts industry in partnership with leaders at competitor companies.  He and his peer leaders led the effort to get an agreement with auto manufacturers that would enable consumers to have access to the diagnostic information needed to diagnose their vehicle problems.  You can relate to this if you have ever had your “check engine light” come on and wondered what it meant and what you have to do to get it turned off.  After several years of visiting Congressmen and Senators in DC, testifying in the Massachusetts legislature where a state bill was passed addressing this issue, and working to persuade auto manufacturers we could work together on this issue, a national agreement was signed in 2014 to make all diagnostic data available to your local garage.  Jim continues to work with the industry on the next big issue, how telematics data will be handled.  Just like on your smartphone, every time you drive a current model vehicle it is accumulating personal data on your driving habits, where you traveled, and much more and there is even concern that hackers could take over your vehicle while you are driving it by penetrating the computers in your vehicle.

In addition to his continued service on the Advance Auto Parts board of Directors, Jim serves on the Boards of two other public companies, Lumber Liquidators based in Williamsburg, VA, Tuesday Morning, based in Dallas, TX, and on the Board of a private equity owned company in New York.

Jim’s advice to young people.  Learn to be a leader.  The success you achieve in your career will not be what YOU YOURSELF accomplishes but what is accomplished by those who entrust you to lead them. Several traits that he shares with those starting out: find mentors, be a good listener, put others first, give others credit and take the blame yourself, learn something new every day, provide direction and let people do their jobs, be consistent, give others more opportunity than they think they can accomplish, always be honest with people who work for you and who you work with, without trust and integrity you cannot be a successful leader.

Jim Wade was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2015.

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